Imam-ul-Haq has cautioned against experimenting with Pakistan’s struggling middle order with just a few ODIs left to play before the 50-over World Cup, despite the team having an unbeatable 3-0 lead in their five-match series against New Zealand. Imam, the third ODI’s player of the match, was particularly unconvinced by the idea of using Mohammad Haris or Iftikhar Ahmed as middle-over power hitters.
Since we don’t have the time to conduct experiments, I honestly don’t think so, he admitted. We have enough power-hitting with Agha Salman, Shadab Khan, and [Mohammad] Nawaz to improvise. Just instilling them with confidence will do. They struggle because they only get five to six overs, and their stats aren’t as impressive as those of our top three, but their chip-in is significant and helpful.
Imam, Fakhar Zaman, and Babar Azam make up Pakistan’s top three, who have scored 62.6% of the team’s runs since the 2019 ODI World Cup, the highest percentage of any nation. They outperform the rest of their batting by an average of 19 runs per dismissal, which is also the highest mark for any team. The Fakhar-Babar and Fakhar-Imam partnerships have contributed 817 and 812 runs, respectively, while the Imam-Babar partnership earned an average of 89.83 runs, including 600-run stands.
However, Pakistan’s middle order has consistently failed to build upon the foundation created by the top order. West Indies’ middle-order batters average 26.2 while the batters between Nos. 4 and No. 7 have a slightly lower average of 26.9. Imam noted that their bowlers needed to strike more frequently in the middle overs despite his preference for a stable batting lineup given the approaching ODI World Cup.
We must instill confidence in Nawaz and Shadab because they are both exceptional all-around players, the Imam said. “Babar may have different ideas, but that’s how I feel. We only have two games left, and it’s crucial to be as prepared as possible with your key players before entering a larger tournament. We don’t have much cricket, and I don’t think we have time to come up with a solution.
“But I think we need to take wickets in them within 11 to 35 overs, and we aren’t able to fetch enough. Sometimes I feel like this is lacking, and if our middle-order spinners start picking off players, the game will be much more in our hands. We took wickets during middle overs today [last night], which allowed us to lower their total to under 270. Therefore, I believe that fielding and fitness is another area where we can make a difference in the future. Getting caught at key moments is crucial.
Many of the players in Pakistan’s squad for the New Zealand series have recent strong ODI records, which improves their chances of making the World Cup roster. However, due to the makeup of their team, many top-order players, such as Abdullah Shafique, Shan Masood, Mohammad Rizwan, and Mohammad Haris, have been forced to bat in the middle of the order. Imam responded that his ability to handle pressure has helped him remain relevant when asked if the competition threatens his position.
“When you play for Pakistan, you find yourself under pressure in every situation, and coming out of it is something that defines you,” the player said. “Managing pressure is crucial, and that’s where you make a difference. Because everyone is extremely talented and the new openers who are joining the team are good, there is naturally a sense of competition. You must constantly be alert, raise your performance level, and maintain your fitness. With everyone around, there is healthy competition, which is good for the team.
According to Imam, recently, his role has changed to include more aggression. However, he adjusted it to better fit Rawalpindi’s unfavourable weather conditions.
“One-day cricket is now fast, and if you look at my last eight or nine games, my strike rate is over 100, so I am no longer playing an anchor role. Consequently, we will now have a boundary when we receive a ball that is in the slot, but today (last night), in particular, the wicket was playing differently, and we were in the Pindi frame of mind.
“The ball wasn’t coming up, but Fakhar and I don’t think much because we’ve been playing with each other for a while. The strategy is to have 50–60 runs without losing a wicket in the first ten overs. If the wicket is sound, we then try to settle the total at 330–350. We knew 270-280 [would be par] because of the wicket’s slowness and the way the ball was coming off the bat, but it might have reached 300 or more if our top four had scored runs.